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Littleton city council green-lights drafting of recreational pot ordinance

Author: Jennifer Kerns - April 13, 2016 - Updated: April 12, 2016

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Proponents of recreational marijuana sales achieved a huge victory in Littleton this week when the city council agreed to draft an ordinance allowing retail sales within city limits, something which has been banned in Littleton since 2013 — even after Colorado voters authorized the substance with the passage of Amendment 64 in 2012.

The victory comes after months of discussion and debate, as well as an in-depth study which culminated in a special pot study committee overseen by the city council.

The momentum for allowing sales had increased in recent days as the Historic Downtown Littleton Merchants Association — the leading business organization in the city center — overwhelmingly voted 29 to 5 in support of lifting the city’s ban.

The council chambers for the City of Littleton, Colorado (Photo via littletongov.org)
The council chambers for the City of Littleton, Colorado (Photo via littletongov.org)

Currently four types of facilities are banned inside city limits according to code: retail stores, cultivation sites, manufacturing facilities and testing facilities. At issue is whether to allow retail stores and to leave the other sites for later discussion.

The proposed ordinance would finally permit retail sales of recreational pot but only in the four storefronts that currently exist for the sales of medical marijuana which were allowed by a previous state law. Littleton’s medical marijuana stores have been operating for a few years and have had no complaints, according to Chief of Police Doug Stephens.

The ordinance would allow current medical marijuana stores to either convert their existing medical marijuana shop to a recreational sales store or to service both medical and recrational marijuana, although they could only serve customers 21 years or older due to state recreational pot laws, which require that retail sales mirror the state’s alcohol age limit. Either that, or the facilities would have to have a separate door for medical marijuana patrons, who only have to be 18 years old to enter.

Some city council members such as Bill Hopping said that he had “agonized over” the decision to allow recreational pot sales, while others such as Mayor Pro Tem Debbie Brinkman said she had previously been “vehemently opposed” to the idea. But at the end of the evening, a city council that was previously sharply divided on the issue came together to problem-solve how to allow sales — and benefit from the tax revenue generated from it — while still protecting the city’s most vulnerable.

In order to meet that objective, the council members agreed in principal to fortify buffer zones around schools, daycare centers and public parks.

The council also brought in Stephens to address public safety concerns and to share the police department’s perspective on what the impact on recreational sales would be.

Stephens shared that in the few years since Colorado has allowed recreational pot use, the department has not seen an increase in marijuana-related issues or driving under the influence. He said while part of that can be attributed to the fact that Littleton has not sold recreational pot inside city limits, he pointed to bordering towns such as Englewood and Denver where people have been able to virtually drive next door to purchase it.

In addition, Stephens said that the existing medical marijuana stores in Littleton “have been responsible” and stated that the police department has “not experienced any problems with the folks here currently.”

This sentiment is mirrored by local business owner and president of the Historic Downtown Merchants Association, Greg Reinke, who has said that medical marijuana shop owners have been “model citizens in the community.”

The chief said the only remaining challenge is the fact that tools don’t yet exist to measure impairment while driving in the same manner that officers can measure alcohol-impaired drivers through breathalyzer tests in the field. But surprisingly, Littleton’s top cop said driving impairment rates have actually decreased — not the other way around — over the last few years since the passage Amendment 64.

Confronted with a preponderance of favorable evidence to  safely allow recreational pot sales at the study session, the city council directed staff to begin drafting an ordinance for first reading at the next city council meeting. 

It’s been a long, strange trip for the majority of Littleton residents, who supported Amendment 64  as well as two other measures — Amendment 20 to allow medical marijuana and Ballot Issue 2E to allow an additional tax on retail sales.

From a representative government standpoint, it appears that the city of Littleton is (finally) preparing to give the people want they want.

jennifer@coloradostatesman.com

Jennifer Kerns

Jennifer Kerns

Jennifer Kerns is an executive editor at The Colorado Statesman. She is an accomplished conservative political writer and contributor to several national publications including The Blaze, The Washington Times, and The Heritage Foundation's Daily Signal. She also served as the communications director and spokeswoman for the 2013 Colorado recall elections to defend Coloradans' Second Amendment rights.